Sunday, 31 May 2009

1 half-term break doing-it-myself at home, complete!

Half-term break: come to an end.
Kids collected from grandparents' country cottage: 2
Walls painted by yours truly: 2
Cupboards painted (3 coats): 2 (one large...bust my backside and my back...but worth it)
Chests of drawers painted: one (drawers only, but makes a statement nevertheless: 'arty concept'? or maybe, 'lazy cow!');
Ancient art-deco sideboard with great potential but nasty finish stripped and given a makeover: 1
Gorgeous bang up-to-date totally 'designer' sideboard I'm thinking of flogging on ebay: (same) 1
Dinners eaten out with husband and no kids: 3
Wine drunk: lots. At various random times of the day...
Happy husband: 1
Relaxed wife: 1
Satisfaction(yes, there IS joy in the simple things!): Lots!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


I fell in love once...actually, twice, three times, four...

More prosaically, I've got builder's radio know, the romantic, 'old' stuff (here in London it's called "Heart" which just about says it all). And all the songs are coming on while I'm up on me ladder. And as the moisture drips down the wall, my heart, from time to time, seeps with sudden memory and nostalgia. It's hard, in the days of family warmth and cradling, of cuddles and gentle smiles, to recall that yearning, the crazy tugging of passion. When every evening's longing seemed to stretch out for eternity across the enveloping darkness, and then some. That pain mixed with joy, bittersweet. When your whole being seems to dissolve into that internal reality. And everything is tinged with sudden light: Oh my God! A spring (or summer) morning, and suddenly: Bang! You know it. And the whole world lies before you, full of promise, full of potential, full of unknown sweetness just waiting to be milked. And if it's reciprocated: Bang! Bang! Ecstacy! Enough to keep you going in bliss, even just lying prone staring out of the window for hours, running movies in your head.

I desperately loved at sweet sixteen for the first time. Brown eyed, floppy haired, tall. A Hugh Grant of my time. I was smitten. To the roaring surges of Tschaikovsky this love affair was all-involving. I played in an orchestra at his college. Which was ivy-league style. Mine - though decent academically if you found yourself in the top 'stream' - was just on the outskirts of town, a grammar school with a crappy band. Instead, on Sundays, I immersed myself in another, Harry Potter-eske, world, and visited venerable buildings hidden inside cathedral walls, violin (my passport) under my arm. The age-old beauty of stone garlanded by old-fashioned roses; vault-shaped leaded windows overlooking silent squares of lawn; leafy muffled cloisters with cool damp shadows. Pinstriped serious young men rushing to-and-from philosophy discussions and string chamber recitals, my love amongst them. After a silence of perhaps twenty years, I received an email the other day. Difficult to know how to feel, except obviously pleased, and not-so-surprisingly relieved: I believe, no, I know, it's good to revisit good times and good people in life. And, of course, a little love remains. How could it not? What we were at sixteen is, strangely enough, and with the benefit of retrospect, the foundation of what we are today.

But,a year above me, he left back to his father's diplomatic life abroad. Our close mutual friend took his place. A different, less cerebral, less romantic love - but a passion no less, based on unconventionality and creative temperament, mutual artistic masturbation, if you will. Pragmatic and reassuring. He had his girlfriends. I had my love, still abroad, as I waited weeks for letters (oh how things must be different nowadays with email! How easy they've got it, the teenagers of today, in long-distance affairs of the heart!) My new 'best friend' wanted to be an architect, and he was alternative. We dressed in black and wrote poetry. We gatecrashed crazy parties in remote mansions, rich kids stuff with all sorts of debauchery going on, the mice playing whilst parents away, and my mother never worried, she'd trust this charming rather shy young man until the cows came home. And it was true. I was always safe with him, despite our bohemian leanings. Morally, physically, emotionally safe. It wasn't love but as close as friendship can get to it. Actually, it would've been the perfect union. The perfect marriage. No emotional currency to bartar, everything out in the open, total acceptance and nothing to lose. Again, we got back in touch a couple of years ago. Surprise, surprise, he runs an environmentally-friendly architectural studio. But we've yet to meet up. Perhaps we don't want to spoil the heady magic of those days: the feeling that we wore our destinies as tortured artistic souls branded on our foreheads for none but our breathren to see. And find out we've all turned into ordinary, boring, everyday people.

Many years later I loved an older man. Dangerously close to the father complex thing. We used to work together, driving across the border from Italy to Switzerland for our work in import/export. There was always, for me, a whiff of naughtiness about the whole thing. For a start the outfit wasn't quite above board. And he was married. And twice my age. He never knew I loved him, until it was too late. I left countries to escape: the dodgy job, him, and my conscience. A case of the affair risque' that never was.

And then, my husband. There were travails, to be sure. Family against us, culture and background held against me. I moved abroad again, this time for him, then fled our home back to London a year later. Ultimatums,tears, remonstrations, reconciliations. And then marriage and two children and it all became very... normal.

Looking back, I need to grab that passion, in these soon-to-be-middle-aged times when I feel it's almost left me. Grab it and inject it into my veins again, to inspire, to move. And to make me feel, once again, the smooth, stretching, eternity of a summer evening, and the unlimited potential of my life before me. I look in the mirror and still see myself, thank God. But. But - to FEEL myself, the self I was at sixteen, the unfettered and untarnished me. I don't ever want to look in the mirror, and not only think the stray gray hairs and lines aren't really me, but feel the wrinkles on my soul aren't, either. I don't want to regret the slacking dents in my potential just as I mourn the elasticity of my skin. I don't want to lose grip of that last clutch of my younger, promising self and feel the passion and exuberance of youth slip through my fingers, a last stroking touch before it's gone, leaving a void. I Mustn't. I'd lose a part of me. Or myself. My true self.

Waiting for that chocolate cake to cook

We're waiting. Waiting for my mother to arrive and pick up the kids, to whisk them away for half-term. I hate waiting. It's that in-between limbo that does it.

The kids blatantly feel it too. They are, in our household lingo, "faffing". Unable to concentrate on doodling, construction bricks, tea parties. Forever looking out of the window to see if that car's arrived.

Much as I feel I should take a feather out of the Buddhist cap and remember to be 'present' in every moment, living 'consciously', waiting moments are, basically, wasted on me. Waiting at the airport, waiting for a 'phone call, waiting for the line to clear when it's engaged (my pet hate. I'm so impatient, I've been known to repeat dial an embarassing amount of times. Ok. About 25?). But, add up all those wasted, waiting, foot-tapping, nervous-tic creating, impatient, nervous energy-consuming moments in one's life and you'd probably get a nice long holiday out of the sum of it all! So, should we really be wasting the seconds and minutes of our waking lives, or getting on and doing something productive to while away the time? (as we get older by the for thought!) And, a watched pot never boils.... as me old Pa likes to say.

Having children has helped to 'productivise' (invented a word there?) what would otherwise be written-off moments for me: story books read in airport-waiting-lounges right up 'till that last moment, 'I spy' at the dentist, that sort of thing. (Although many husbands, dare I say it, seem not to have this dilemma of free and discarded minutes - the ubiquitous 'crackberry' device has helped to put a stop to idling away the time. Scrolling away time instead - even marriages instead!)

So, today I grabbed my conscience in both hands, and decided to use my waiting time productively. I whipped up my household's fave chocolate cake: admittedly the kids'll miss eating this one, but it'll be plenty excusable, I reckon, for a woman burning up calories stripping walls and re-painting furniture! It's my husband's favourite, too, and indispensable to finish up the easter-egg hoard in my spare fridge(325g of chocolate per cake and anything else you'd like to throw in - leftover turkish delight, anyone? -worked a dream, actually, added gooey bits!). After Easter, I send Hubby to work with a large slice every day (he then wonders where the 'love handles' came from, but, my, he does have a mid-afternoon pick-me-up!)

So, this one's dedicated to the concept of slow living the moment with "consciousness", to banishing the trickle of wasted seconds lived in impatience and boredom. Taste it like you mean it!!!

"RELUCTANTLY FRUSTRATED STAY-AT-HOME MUM'S SERIOUSLY CHOCOLATEY CAKE" (promise you'll be blown away...not too sickly and as light as a feather.)

Serves: 8 (or 1 doing D-I-Y!!)
Cooking time: officially 45 minutes (but can take 15 or even 20 minutes longer). When a skewer inserted comes out clean, it's cooked. So test it, blasting up the oven to max as you open it to prevent the in-rush of cool air collapsing the thing like a burst balloon.

225g to 325g chocolate, broken into pieces (former is official recipe, latter is my tweak to finish off the stuff accumulated in the sweetie drawer: makes no difference to the recipe in my experience).

225ml milk, you can add an extra splash if you're putting in more choc and see the need...
150g butter, softened
300g light muscovado sugar
3 eggs
1tbsp golden syrup
225g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1) Preheat the overn to 180c/350F/Gas mark 4. Melt the chocolate and milk together in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water (bain marie. Or 'Ban Mary' as my husband calls it. I said: "You Philistine!...who's Mary?!") Stir until smooth, then remove from the heat and set aside. Try not to finish the whole bowl by tasting for: temperature/consistency/taste/because it looks yummy.

2) Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and fluffy (never quite understood when fluffy was, but pale and lack of discernable crystals does it for me). Use an electric beater unless you are sexually (or otherwise) frustrated and need to beat the hell out of the mix with a wooden spoon (no, not me. I use the electric gadget. For the cake, that is. Sorry!) Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the golden syrup. Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarb into the bowl, and combine. Gradually stir in the chocolate mixture.

3) Grease and line the base of a 900g loaf tin with non-stick baking parchment (official recipe - I use whatever I can get my hands on in the melee of my cupboards, normal round non-stick cake tin also fine.) Note however that the parchment (grease-proof paper, folks) is a good idea, for this cake is a vision of light and airy - and would suffer being prodded and pushed out of a tin.
Spoon in the mixture (it might seem runnier than usual stodgy mixes, don't worry) and bake to 40 minutes or so, OR until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean (my cakes are unpredicable. Up to 1 hr 15 has been known. Just make sure the skewer comes out greasy but clean to check it's done, right in the middle.)

4) Turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool - if you can wait that long. I don't...

Enjoy every mouthful, folks, and by the way. The being conscious-of-the-moment thing? It's also a very good way to lose weight. Live it like you mean it and eat it like you mean it!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The charm of self-creation

The wallpaper stripping is deeply satisfying. There you have it! No wonder all these random perps on 'Grand Designs' 're showing off their creations whilst proselytising about the satisfaction of build-it-all-yerself. The results-in-moments-thing is quite a balm for a frustrated housewife like moi with no immediate satisfaction in: bank account/romance/glamorous lifestyle/career.... ("sod it, lean over the ladder and go for it...ready...want the whole damn chunk in one little tug...go on then...grab the edge, gently goes, here we go....PEEL!!!!!!! Yeeeessss!!! Ha hey, slickly done, woman!: mental high-five!")

Actually, my father, too, built his own house from scratch. I spent the most memorable and unfettered moments of my childhood there. Wondrous, echoes of Le Corbusier, natural rock walls lining the interior, minimalist but yet sinuous(I sound like an art critic..), inspired touches like the massive millstone atop an oil drum, glass-covered, as dining table. It faces the thumping swell in winter when the air tastes of salt, and the twinkling, happy, whooping beach in summer. It's abroad- obviously- a little bolthole once the preserve of artists and hippies, now discovered and developed, village charm rather engulfed: in the same way as its dry river bed - once a heaven of mimosa trees - has been asphaulted over, yellow fluffy blooms of lingering scent long gone. Not a place to live, not now, and not outside the holiday season. It reeks of lost charms and uncertain future (a bit like a middle-aged spinster once ravishing). Charming, still, but its rarity faded. And the house, too, as if in reflection, stands rather neglected: shabby and let-out to brutish tenants who ill respect it, forever trashing object after object year after year. But it was a dream house once. A Grand Design to beat Grand Designs. If building your own house is something to be proud of in life, my father's proud. But yet that's all he really achieved of note, though he could have been a great architect. A really great one. My family is dogged with unrealised potential (which is why I'm hot-housing my son - can't help it - but that's a story for another time).

Anyway, back to the bare wall. I'm gazing at it. I love it. I love its promise, its whole latentness, it being a blank canvas by means of which to transform the space around (yes, a statement wall, I admit it. What a horrid expression that is, though. Cheapens the whole creative concept to exhibitionism). Husband thinks I'm mad when I come out with such thoughts, but to be candid (and he admits it) he's design challenged, as you'd call it nowadays. The day to day aesthetics which badger me and make me suffer mean nothing to him. He's pragmatic. But, me,I'm a dreamer and, yes, CARE about beauty and how my world is ordered. It's undoubtedly easier to live like him, than like me if you're short on cash! I just suffer. And end up picking up that trowel myself when I just can't stand it any longer! I care about how things look, about balance, about harmony, about relationships between objects and environments, almost as much as between people (because I believe environment improves quality of life, relationships, mood, morale). The flip side is, I'm vain, ambitious, quixotic (that one's for your benefit, MH!) and probably selfish too, in the way arty people can be selfish when the creative urge takes over. I'm sure I'm a challenge to live with and to understand..... why I love a bare wall so?!

Sunday, 24 May 2009

A ring, a ring...a ding-a-ding-ding

In my background, marriage is for life. My parents - had they not believed this, or perhaps had they not had two children - would undoubtedly have gone separate ways. They are still one of the most incompatible couples around (I think). They still struggle to share a home, a life. Yet some sort of acknowledgment of eternity forged, keeps them together. (I wouldn't have.)

And my husband is from a culture where you just DON'T divorce. Only losers divorce: and then, this simply serves to prove to the community around them that the naysayers had been right all along! Only those without the sublime merit of duty, a sense of commitment, and the strength to work it out through thick and thin, fail in marriage. Those with moral fortitude, good breeding, and well-chosen wives, have happy lifelong marriages.

We all know that's hogwash. Or, at least, half of it is: and half is actually quite true, if you contemplate it.

After all, to take one side of the argument, there are husbands who beat their wives: who'd ever argue for sticking it out? And the serial philanderers, male and female both: I'd be signing the papers before you could think of better adjectives than "Darstadly Cad" (or worse, if it's a woman doing the dirty!). An acquaintance's ex-wife used to go out and (pardon me) 'screw other blokes' and come back at 3 in the morning: oh, back, that is, to her MOTHER-IN-LAW'S house where she was living with poor cuckolded husband whilst refurbishing!! (look the word up if you don't know it, btw...). Now surely he had valid grounds for divorcing her, in most rational people's books - if nothing else you really can't let that kind of thing go on under your dear old mum's nose, can you? And whilst we're on this side of the fence, who else merits a quick split?: well, the terminally bankrupt, the permanently stoned or sozzled or the manic depressive. The Billionaire who spends every waking hour working (and then some, whilst perhaps having it off with the P.A.,too, for good measure)and who views the kids as simply a means of passing on the inheritance - a lonely union I would reckon and one worth hacking out that pre-Nup for.

But, no, seriously. We all go through thick and thin in marriage. Our mental attitudes undoubtedly help. I know two couples who aren't married officially but to all intents and purposes, might as well be. Kids, mortgage, every trapping of the real deal, except the deal and the being trapped (sorry couldn't resist that!) No, but seriously, they both tell me that it's the not being married at all that helps to keep it all fresh - the underlying risk factor, as it were (although, to be honest, with a mortgage and a couple of kids I don't know that there IS more or less risk of splitting up, certificate or no certificate.) And, to be truly really honest, it's the (previously-married) husbands who seem to have established the status quo as the girls in the equation have confided that they would love/or rather, have loved the whole wedding thing one day/if... etc. Nevertheless, the civil partnerships they do have seem to be going very strong, a fact the ladies don't deny (and they do seem to have a lot of sex happening - within these non-marriage-marriages!- to boot).

Let's compare now those who are attached by the hip (or rather that register entry). Forced by the book to be together 'till death do us part, does this make for a stronger union? Or could the whole inevitability of the thing, the whole eternality, be a bit of a downer? Discuss...

What all of us, signature or not, do know, is that there are times when marriage is challenging (remember your Mum or Dad, when you first tentatively discussed shacking up with a first love or indeed the whole engagement thing? "You have to think long and hard...Marriage is hard enough without... bla bla bla"?) Times when a spouse might as well be a stranger. Times when you think: "Christ!...Bloody Hell! Do I actually LIKE this person at this particular moment...(oops!... my spouse!)!"

And then times when the happy family thang is just wondrous. And THAT, (the whole happy family scenario, and feeling, and vibe, and bond) once broke, you can't fix it. Ever. Not worth ever letting go of, for ding-dongs or bust-ups or petty arguments, or selfish reasons. Those without kids, well, I reckon, the whole structure's much more precarious, isn't it? and for good reason. Kids cement the deal.

So we slog on through thick and thin, most of us. Sometimes, when things aren't tip top, wishing we were married to someone else, or not married at all (a bizarre thought when there are children involved, to be sure!). Sometimes, when things are as smooth as a Mojito on a summer day, thinking of those poor sods who are single and pitying their lonely, frustrated fate. (No offense, please, you know it's not a rational or real evaluation).

Ahhh, marriage....And here's little me, communicating with my laptop - and perhaps some random readers out there in the ether? And hubby reading the newspaper in bed, alone...Oh Wicked Wench! Remember thy marriage vows and weep! (but you see, never good to judge from afar...poor chap's a streaming cold. Left him to it.)

But, then again....would I, as a doting girlfriend, so many years ago, and not enmeshed in this whole marriage malarky, have behaved the same? Of course not. There would have been back-rubs, hot tea with lemon, you name it. Not a wife, on a computer, busy tapping out her thoughts, separate from him to whom she vowed to be eternally linked. Is that food for thought? Or just a fact of life?... A fact of marriage??

Friday, 22 May 2009

on procrasination

Procrastination is the thief of time. So they say. Seeing as from where I'm currently standing (or rather sitting), I can see the spectre of procrastination stealing my gym visit today (nasty fellow only pinched my half hour on the treadmill yesterday, too, bloody hell!) I'm going to put a stop to it. And allow myself ten minutes of blogging to try and talk myself mentally out of the motivation rut. A form of auto-ass-kicking! And then, of course, go. To. The. Gymnasium. Straight. Away...(I hope).

Here we go:

How Not To Procrastinate.

(1) Chop the oh-so-daunting onerous task into little manageable steps. I did this a few years ago (pre-kids, admittedly!) to overcome my lifelong vertigo (fear of heights): I decided to jump out of a plane!!

First step: call sky-diving company (I was in New Zealand at the time, at Lake Taupo, one of the most beautiful locations in the world to see from above, so that helped).
Second step: pay (stiff!) deposit. Funnily enough, money IS a super motivator...
Third step: Jump on a bus.
Fourth step: get geared-up.
Fifth step: Get into a small plane. From then on it was just literally a step over the edge and that was taken for me by my tandem instructor to whom I was strapped, so unwilling or not, over the edge I went. All in all, not a big deal really. (How was it for me, you ask? Amazing. Nothing comes close (dressed or undressed!). So you see, worth it not to procrastinate and, especially, worth overcoming one's worst fears, at least in that case. I do deal with heights much better since. A bit like dealing better with pain after childbirth).

So, let's translate to my current (less dramatic) scenario of gym attendance: First step - Get into the car and drive off! Second step - swipe card through gates. Once that far, it's hard to turn back if only because of the very fit examples of aerobic motivation you're confronted with in the lobby.

In general, though, I do find that once I'm on my way to something there's no feasible excuse to procrastinate any more: action has already been taken, time and motion. So turn on that laptop! Open that file! Make that phone call! Whip apart that wad of documents! you're almost half-way there (at least mentally, which is indeed half the battle) - promise!

(2) Give yourself a reward for each small step. The mind gets overwhelmed by large, seemingly unending projects but if you subscribe to: "A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step" (thanks, Confucious!) and reward the milestones along the way things become enjoyable instead of a slog. I'm going to have a few squares of chocolate on my way back from the gym and I do enjoy my forest fruits isotonic drink in sips at intervals as the distance counter ticks on!!!

(3) Don't think about the future - except in positive terms. It's not a 'mountain to climb' - picture yourself instead on the summit waving the flag: imagine that feeling of success inside your chest. Positive visualisation really does bolster up achieving that goal. Live the sweetness of satisfaction in advance, so you know where you're headed. And before you know it, you'll be there! (I'll have that serotonin racing when I'm done at the gym, and feel invigorated on the drive back. I know this in advance, so why I'd prefer laziness to that refreshing feeling is the million dollar question!)

(4) Concentrate on what you can do now, in the present, to help your cause. If you planted a bulb a day, you'd have a whole field of daffodils (for example. Or whatever analogy helps you on your way.) Personally, I wrote a novel of 80,000 words in about four months at a rate of a little bit every night (OK so it's not published, but still, it taught me about getting a job done bit by bit...)
And, back to the gym example, 20 minutes a day is better than an hour twice a week, ask any fitness expert...

(5) Override your brain's negative messages: they are self-defeating. It's NOT hard, it's NOT boring, it's NOT something you don't like: it's something positive you are doing to free yourself up, by finishing it off and giving you time to do stuff you prefer!
(Let's face it going to the gym is a pleasure, in that if you keep fit you look good. And, in my case this week, can then indulge at upcoming weekend barbeque with no feelings of guilt: what could possibly be bad about offsetting wine and good food with a spot of exercise?!)

(6) Just get on with it. Excuses like perfectionism are just: Excuses! Things can always be revised, but they have to be finished first. As with writing a book, without a first draft there's nothing. Again, I don't have to go to the gym to do a full olympic-style circuit and tick the boxes on an entire training regime per session. 20 minutes on the treadmill still counts but is an awful lot less daunting! Aim too high and it's easy to give up and give in. Slow, steady and achievable wins the race.

(7) Don't allow the turkeys to get you down! (I used to love this expression as a teenager. It means, don't allow other people's perceptions to affect your self-worth. Be your own best, toughest, but fairest critic and you'll do a good job).

Do remember that even (and especially) friends and family can (subconsciously) sabotage your good plans, either due to (subconscious) envy or by putting their own agendas before yours (human nature, so don't take it personally). A girlfriend cajoled me this morning: "Oh you can give the gym a break: come and have coffee and cakes with me!" -and I suspected she was most likely reflecting her own guilty procrastination onto me - as she subsequently admitted: "Well I know I should go too, but can't be bothered, so let's be lazy together...!" Oh no, no, noooo.......! What, both be fat and lazy??!! No way, girlfriend, don't count me in your guilt trip! (she tootled off to get the trainers on, grateful).

So, each to his (or her) own - get your own stuff done, your goals fulfilled, your own guilt assuaged. Forget others. We've all got our own individual responsibilities to deal with. I've only got my one life, I reckon - no time for excuses or sabotage.

(8) P.S. Reward yourself for finishing the job (but that's the easy part!)

(9) Remember no-one's perfect so the odd procrastination is human. As long as it's a conscious choice and not a habit, and you have the power to make that choice.

Bye! I'm off to the gym! First step.... log off....avoiding the latest gossip on msn and the temptation to log onto hotmail...and Nooooo, Helen, another quick cup of tea is NOT a good idea... and the bills to pay can wait...GET OUT OF THE DOOR RIGHT NOW WOMAN!!!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The gentle power of persuasion...

Business bods are always harping on about 'networking'. This is something I've always been particularly good at: whether because I can (in the words of my University tutor) "talk the hind legs off a horse" (is that good, or bad?), whether it's because I'm quite an opportunist at heart (aren't we all?), or whether just because I simply do love meeting people - different people, nice people, interesting people, or just plain people (you can learn from anyone) - I don't know. Anyway, I seem to have either networked (or made a name for myself) sufficiently to have been today nominated without opposition for the post of 'Chairman (-woman?) of the (School) Fund-raising Committee.' I must have done something right to market myself correctly. Which, tell you a secret, is pretty good going, as here's the reality:

Example 1: Yesterday - (rushing my son into school at the last possible moment), his teacher looks at me in that benignly concerned manner: "Are you all right, Mrs. Romeo?"

I blinked. Wanted to say: "what, apart from the week of migraines due to this awful high/low pressure weather; the inability to sleep well (worrying about paying the school fees); the having had to organise a birthday party for 32 children (cakes at school break, family cake at home and cakes at the party included - how many cakes?!); the skin breakouts and sluggish feeling from over-consumption of said cakes; the constant nagging in order to get children ready for school on these between-season days which start shrouded in heavy sleepiness and cloud; my recent feeling of complete disorganisation and resulting dip in motivation; and, lastly, lack of any redeeming physical exercise over two weeks, gym and marital acrobatics included..? What, the fact that I'm a total mess?!". But I just replied: "Ummm. Yes. I suppose so..."

Teacher looked at me again, indulgent smile - as you would to a five-year-old, not normally to a forty-year-old mum - "well, it's just were absent last night, and I wondered if everything was OK?" (OH god! I think. What the hell was last night? Some sort of parent's evening?) "Ummm. So sorry. Ummm. Sorry, but what WAS on last night, if you don't mind me asking? I'm not sure I was ever made aware of it..." (blatantly, I haven't been reading either my emails nor those silly crunched-up bits of paper they shove in the school bags, in fact..)

"The parent's evening in preparation for moving up into Form 1 next year. We looked at all the children's work and what they've achieved over the past year, and parents had individual meetings with the new teacher for next year to ask questions and so on."

(Oh Christ! Well, wouldn't have been able to make it as hubby arrived back from work at 10pm anyway. Bloody hell. And isn't this sort of thing an end-of-term thing anyway?)

I apologised and slinked away.

Example 2: Woke up today at 08.10. We have, as a rule, to leave at 08.30 in order to get both children to school on time. Somehow got dressed, teeth cleaned, faces washed, hair done, shoes and coats on, and breakfast eaten in 20 minutes flat. And two pack-lunches made. Although this may be seen as an example of astute and timely organisational ability, I view it more as complete chaos.

All I can deduce from the above, is that if my over-sleeping-, migraine-prone-, nagging ad infinitum-, disorganised-, out-of-control-, and totally unaware of important dates-persona has made enough of an impression to be nominated as chief fundraiser for Posh-Private-School, I think there may yet be hope for me to go work for the government in spin instead! However...I haven't as yet informed the scholastic powers-that-be that, before I fund-raise for anyone else, I should really be fund-raising for myself: or I won't exist at the school next term to chair those all-important meetings after all! (How to put it?...Hmmmm.... let me think....sure I can put a spin on it...)

Monday, 18 May 2009

Mind the Gap

A few weeks ago, I was at the 'Grand Designs' Expo in London. Those who know me, know I am rather obsessed with design. Fault of being the progeny of an architect, even if the old man's not exactly Frank Lloyd Wright. I used to live by the mantra 'don't have anything in your house which is not either useful or beautiful' (preferably both, in ideal scenario) - those with young children may understand why this has been modified over time. Nevertheless, I am neither designer by trade nor can I afford to buy the design that I would, if I could (despite the odd mass-produced Alessi and Philippe Starck, no big deal.)

I sat down with an architect at the exhibition. I hadn't brought any plans of the complicated and major project I foresee for our property... (one day. As in, the dream we envisaged when we bought this detached and outdated house with playing fields stretching beyond and no neighbours on one side. No-one to overlook or look down, no barrier to potential planning permission/s.) Anyway, despite no plans I sat down quietly for half an hour and drew them out. Then sat down, less quietly, with said architect, and talked them out.

The architect gave me a figure we can't afford and haven't got. Might have in ten years. Might have in five. Probably not, bar an out-of-the-blue book deal (probably not). Again, probably not, bar my husband moving to Kuwait and earning tax-free stacks of cash (there again, definitely not).

I told the very nice, very-I-could-work-with-him architect that I have no current plans as my finances won't stretch the distance. As I did to plenty of others who tried to sell me their juicy wares from all the top design names, all day. I suppose I love it all so much that I project an aura: there seemed to be no gap between the customer they perceived me to be and the one I am (in stark reality). Certainly, I am as well versed as your next interiors- or design-aficionado. I know whose iconic pieces are which. I know the latest up-and-coming names. But it all ends there.

Mind the gap... The gap between who you'd like to be and who you are. The gap between how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself. Therein lies they say. You can extrapolate ad infinitum...The income gap... The spending gap... the self-esteem gap... Bla, bla, bla. Lots of lovely matter for sociologists and psychologists.

Of course, the impressions and opinions of others matter only up to a point: though it's a point mostly stuck well into career, reputation, honour, glory, etc! (On the other hand, the Dalai Lama can give you a very valuable perspective on how none of these can bring lasting happiness. Read his stuff, it's good.)

Love, friendship, family?... if there are no gaps here then we should be happy, no gaps where it's all important, most important. But yet, for many of us, there's still the one gap which tends to rub. Between who we know we could be and who we are, right now. Between our reality and our potential, perhaps.

To thine own self be true, said William Shakespeare. And it will follow, as the night the day, you cannot then be false to any man.
(or words to that effect)

I mean, we all dream of being a more... successful?/slimmer?/fitter?/richer?/better organised?/(insert yours here)...version of what we are. We are aware of the gap, and it rubs. Especially if others notice (or don't notice). But, all we can do about it is either live with it or close the gap. Period. Or, become Buddhists.

So, in my case: what do I need to do to be true to myself? It's not about refurbishing a house or buying a Le Corbusier lounge chair. It's something about creativity, about a feeling for harmony and a love of beauty. Probably, and especially, the creativity bit. Food for thought. Mind the Gap!

The architect was disappointed, though. He's still trying to get me to sign him up for my big 'grand design'. Not now, my man. Not yet. Maybe I have to discover myself a bit more first - a 'grand design' on my career destiny, as it were - before dealing with the plain bricks and mortar stuff.

food for thought

What do you do when you turn the corner in life, and catch a glimpse of that first milestone by the wayside? out old friends and wonder about old loves?
...vow to appreciate new friends and current loves more than you do?
...remember the person you were at 16 and ask yourself, what can I learn from the young self I was then?
...make time to do the things you never have time for?
...remember that what you're interested in forms an essential part of yourself that you shouldn't ignore?
...acknowledge that life isn't infinite...
...ask yourself, if you don't make the best of yourself now, when will you?
...know there's no age attached to potential
...stop and smell the roses
...and, hey, it's never too late/you're never too old/never too tired/... to party!!

Alright, trite. But still true.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

De aye why

OK, it's official. Not the fact that our politicians appear to be spending all our hard-earned money to dredge their moats and install high-tech security shutters at their (third-residence) mansions...God knows they'll probably need both soon enough, to fend off angry hoards armed with bricks and rolled-up copies of "The Telegraph"... No, the fact that little Mrs. Non-Politico - me - is so broke that I'm going to be forced to do MY refurbishing MESELF. Yes. I am packing my two children off to Grandmother's country cottage this upcoming half-term (not a second residence, not my "current" (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) residence, and no moat nor acres to spread taxpaying manure costing five thousand pounds a lorry on). Because if I don't do something to fill the holes in the wall.. and remove the ragged wallpaper... and paint said surfaces (and new plastered fireplace)... and replace the tiles fallen off the bathroom wall...(etc)... I will not be able to have a 40th birthday party at home (soon). As I will be too ashamed. Period! Sad but true. And with no way to drown 40 years in copious drink to dull the shock and no-one to help me commiserate, I will then probably feel my age. Which is what, above all, you're meant to try and avoid when you turn forty - aren't you? (Whether or not I'll feel fifty after attempting to revamp my own home single-handedly, is another matter.)

As for my new-found (very reluctant) role as de'-uh-ray-uh, (de' as in dec), suffice to say I know NOTHING about D.eye.why. Except that, like everything else in our household, I have to DO. It. Myself. (With. NO. Help!)

So, I was supposed to tootle off to our local four storey hardware store this afternoon, B&Q. A tad more than a hardware store, a glorified version, for those in the know. To pick up some 'supplies' for my home renovation exercise. Oh, and a 'brush' to block the letterbox at our tenant's place where some daft opportunist attempted to burgle them at four in the morning the other night by sticking a metal broom handle into said letterbox and jamming the lock to try and open the door. Streetlight bang outside the front door, and car in drive. Everyone asleep upstairs. Which isn't a story any landlord wants to hear (but that's all another story for another time).

But anyway. I went nowhere. I ended up making my son a Viking Longship instead and eating a large slice of wholemeal bread with organic peanut butter and pine forest honey - when I wasn't in the slightest bit hungry - instead. Hmmmmm. Procrastination is the thief of......

And that, folks, is that. I should've been in politics instead, I muse, perhaps via the Parent Teacher Assoc. at school (like moose lady across the Pond). And I would have had a moat and acres of something (woodland? grassland?? savanna??? mud????) and three residences (Oh, well of course I forgot, I do have three mortgages but that's why we are so poor. No one pays them for me or even buys me a John Lewis designer stone sink. Bad time to enter property speculation, that was). Naturally (continuing the fantasy) I'd need my city residences and country piles all prickling with taxpayer-funded security to avoid blind broom-handled-burglars.

Oh well. I'd better log off and start looking up how to strip off three layers of wallpaper dating back 80 years, and fight the cravings for chocolate biscuits (which seem to accompany the intention). I'm thinking, I don't own overalls. Wonder if my floral apron would do?

Friday, 8 May 2009

An ocean

Since I continually harp on about entrepreneurship, I thought I'd write a list of my achievements in the sector. You'll soon realise that between dreaming and doing there's an ocean in-between - at least in my case. Let's hope that can change sometime in the future!

Stuff I've done successfully:

(1) Property investment
(2) Property refurbishment
(3) Buying-selling designer denim on-line (marginally successful, at least I ended up with a great wardrobe!)
(4) Having lots of lovely ideas in the shower....(steady, steady, readers!)

Just a few of the (multiple) stuff I've dreamt of doing, done research, but never got so far as writing a business plan (those old demons again "you haven't got the'll never pull it haven't got the're not good enough..wicked chuckle, wicked chuckle!"):

(1) Environmentally-friendly dry-cleaning business (opened by someone else locally 6 months later...and doing well...ARGHH!)

(2) Designer clothing 'swap' website (still pendng but bought URL. But then, STILL pending is all that matters...)

(3) Idea for a cut-resistant glove (no joke! - after I cut the end of my finger off - anyway, already exists as my research uncovered!)

(4) Cellulite friendly underwear (subsequently done by 'spanx'...)

(5) Italian-style bakery

(6) Hot chocolate cafe'

Books I've written but not published: 2
Languages I speak but no occasion to: 5 and 2 bits
Husbands with whom I'm not communicating: 1
Gorgeous kids: 2
Dress size: 6-8
Height: 158 cms carried away.....

Well, as I say, between dreaming and doing there's an ocean in day I'll get out of my rut. I will. I WILL!! I WILL!!! (...I hope. Watch this space. My husband says there's no rut to get out of. All depends on perception. And character. And ambition. And dreams...Uh oh, back to square one!).

Thursday, 7 May 2009


The builders have been and gone, and my computer sits lonely and disconnected, tangle of wires temporarily housed in a waste-paper basket. The longterm 'hole' in my wall - offending fireplace - is newly blocked up and pinkly plastered. I should feel good about this: it was a scar on my aesthetic sense for far too long. But I feel strangely blocked up too: a few days too many without writing. (In the end I came to the gym. Firstly, to quench my nervous energy tapping on the PC in the cafe. Secondly, only secondly, to quench my restlessness by stepping on the treadmill - that's for later). Because, there are those who write, who have to write, who 'need' to write. I am one. The best-selling author Jodi Picault (who's written a novel a year for the past god-knows-how-many; had penned ten even before success; and who has one for each of the next two years already mapped out) talked about this in an interview I read recently. She wouldn't stop writing even if she stopped publishing: "Don't you think that when J.D. Salinger dies they'll find a barn full?" (of unpublished novels), she asks, rhetorically.
It would help me no end to be desperately (as in single-mindedly) churning out novel after novel (preferably published, not in my garden shed!) instead of just desperate. But I'm no Jodi Picault. Or even J.D.Salinger. Just a mum. Oh well.

And there are other, more prosaic, things to do, too many. An absent husband. Busy kids. A wall of flocked cream wallpaper to strip off. The daily grind of life. Recession. Sacrifices. Then guilt - we've got it better than many. Than so many. But this is my life, not anyone else's. A horrible, sinking feeling of desperation, of drowning. My sister-in-law's fortieth today. Mine soon. What have I accomplished in those forty years? A lot, says Hubby. A husband (working all hours, then watching football). Two lovely kids (agreed. Thankyou!). A (ramshackle - Oh God!) house with a (stunning - Thank God!) garden. Lovely friends (sanity) and not enough time spent with them (insanity). Health (priceless). Career? Ambition? (don't make me cry...). Conclusion: I STILL just feel: "Not enough". Sodding 'A'-type personality. Bloody ambition. But: Happy days. And then: days of frustration.

BUT. But, then: driving to school this morning, I turned out of our drive (over the generous cycle path) into the line of traffic trickling slowly down our road. Further up, a car, parked frozen in the position in which it had swerved to turn into a driveway just like mine: diagonally half over the cycle path and half in the road, like one of those matchbox model cars of my son's when flung onto the playroom floor. Off to the side enough for the queue of cars to pass. So, we crawl past. Similarly, half on the pavement and half on the cycle path: a long blue cyclist in tight dark blue lycra, lies there. Somehow, rings a bell. Tall man. Hurt. Mangled bike. Someone runs out of the neighbouring house with a pink flowery blanket. He's not moving. Far away, back in my rear view mirror, the flashing lights of an ambulance stuck in the morning rush. "Someone's hurt", I tell my children, who are wondering what it's all about. "I think someone in a car wasn't looking and hit into a man on a bicycle who also maybe wasn't looking. Cars are hard and people are soft. So the man is hurt. But I think he'll be OK. There's an ambulance coming. That's why we always have to be careful in life, to watch out, to look carefully. So there aren't accidents." My children, quiet, accept this. We move on, turn off the road. End of subject. But I feel strange. I've got a horrible feeling the cyclist is the one who mouthed: "Bitch!" at me the other day. As, already half out of my drive to turn into the line of traffic, he appeared from nowhere and speeded on towards me, in dark blue lycra, racing. And I stopped to let him past - cyclists have the right of way, don't they? And that was fine. Or maybe it wasn't. He had to slow his pace and he didn't like that. And so he mouthed off at me. And I was surprised, a tall obviously middle-class man of my husband's age in expensive cycle gear on a very posh cycle, swearing foully at someone who could be his wife (or maybe that was the point, I'd thought!). I suspected it was him on the pavement this morning, I was horribly sure. The word "karma" came to me and I felt like crying. I could in another life, perhaps, have been the motorist, the car pulled over beside the injured man mine. If fate had had it differently I could have been the driver the police no doubt were questioning when on my return from the school run I saw a bare pavement on the same spot, but a police car too. Then I wanted to cry again. For the cyclist, a man, someone's husband, someone's dad maybe. And for me. Shocked for the man. Relieved for me.

I'm wanting to cry too much this week, in any case. But I stop, and shake myself, and remember to be grateful for what I've got. So, I'm off to the treadmill. The real one, not the imaginary one that sometimes feels, most ungratefully on my part, like my life.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

spinning gold into straw...

My husband casually asked my four-and-a-half year old son a couple of months ago what he thought the Credit Crunch was. Much to my astonishment, he knew, without missing a beat (and I quote): "It's when the banks aren't sharing and they don't want to lend to each other." Granted that the child's quite bright, but still...
(I suspected the long arm - or lips rather?! - of the BBC, but quite liked the child-friendly vocab. Luckily I reined myself in at the last moment before quipping, instinctively, "Hmmm....a bit like your sister!")

It did occur to me that Rumplestiltskin - the fairy tale where straw is spun into gold - would also be a good way to explain the whole mess, but only if you reverse it, gold into straw. Now that really would be one way to explain Mortgage-backed-collateralised-debt-obligations...

Anyway, just a day or so ago, my little man piped up asking me what I'd written on my "blog today, when you write stuff on the computer, Mummy".
"Mummy's writing tips for saving money, sweetheart!", I replied, cupping his cheeky grin. He looked up, interested seriousness: "Is that because of the recession?". What to say, except agree and change the subject to avoid getting into a full-blown explanation about what, how and why - gross cowardice, no doubt! - but I'd prefer to wait. Despite the predominance in fairy tales of poor peasants, rich kings, tricksters, the whole straw to gold concept and the multiple pots thereof, I really, REALLY prefer to wait...It's that instinctive whisper trickling inside me, admonishing that children should be full of lighter, more earthy persuits: mud, sunshine, rascally laughter, old-fashioned games and crafts! NOT MONEY, for God's sake - how vulgar!! Not Recession, for Goodness - why darken their perfect innocence!!! (no matter that children have been privvy to harsh realities for millennia).

Nevertheless, I bow to our modern children's 'radar': I really do have to be careful what I say in front of little mister these days. Do we adults underestimate the ability of our children to grasp rather complicated 'adult' concepts and phrases? Granted, children have always heard and repeated, but do they understand a tad too much on top of all that, nowadays? Or is it a sign of the times, of what they're exposed to, conversations, radio, television, media? Or, just possibly, maybe we should simply get them to go out climb trees/make bows and arrows/run around the garden more... like in the 'old' days (rhetorical question)? Maybe then, in their natural element of fresh air and exciting, mucky pursuits, they wouldn't bother wondering about recessions, credit crunches and the like. Or want to grow up too fast and "get a job to help Daddy, because Daddy has to work too hard..." (that one was nipped in the bud before you could fling open the patio door with a: "Out to play football! Out you get, go on!")